Karl Otto Lagerfeld(1938) is a German designer. His nickname is Kaiser, the emperor of fashion, due to his German background: he comes from a family of rich industrialists in Hamburg. From a very young age, he showed an extraordinary passion and talent for the arts. When Karl Lagerfeld arrived in Paris in the 1950s, not yet fifteen, to finish his secondary studies, he still did not know which art he wished to follow: with an omnivorous and voracious intellectual curiosity, he had a growing passion for the eclecticism and cosmopolitanism of the Grand Siècle.
The First Collaborations
His innate taste for the futile and ephemeral, and his drawing skills directed him towards fashion: at the age of 16 he won first prize, ex aequo with Yves Saint Laurent, in the contest organized by the International Secretariat of Wool, and he was invited by Pierre Balmain to work in his haute couture atelier.
In 1958 he moved to the maison Patou to complete his experience in the field of haute couture. But the group of important ateliers was not enough for his uneasy and free spirit: in France and in Italy prêt-à-porter was dawning and Lagerfeld became an independent designer collaborating with, among others, Charles Jourdan, Krizia, Ballantyne, Cadette, and Mario Valentino.
Lagerfeld and Fendi
The first major turning point of his career arrived in 1965: the meeting and the beginning of a collaboration with the Fendi sisters, an alliance which still continues and which, in 1985, was celebrated at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome with the exhibition “A working path — Fendi-Karl Lagerfeld”. For the Roman maison, the designer created collections of revolutionary furs, which transformed a bourgeois status symbol into an avant-garde dressing style.
The Meeting With Coco Chanel
In 1977 he created the first clothing line, and in 1983 came the second turning point: Chanel appointed him artistic director of the maison, entrusting him with the design of the haute-couture collections, prêt-à-porter, and accessories. Lagerfeld was able to interpret the spirit of Mademoiselle Coco, renovating it through his personal inspiration, though retaining the unmistakable style of the brand. Less fortunate was the path of the griffe KL, which he founded in 1984 and which has a fan as its symbol. In 1998 he wound up the company, partly because his time was very much taken up by his activity as fashion photographer for the major international fashion magazines and other designers, among them Fendi.
Set Designer and Illustrator
Lagerfeld has been also a costume and set designer (he has worked for the Burgtheater in Vienna, La Scala in Milan, and the Comunale in Florence) and an original illustrator of drawings that accompany the press files of his collections, and his working notes.
In 1986 Longanesi published Un diario di moda Anna Chronique, written with his friend, the Milanese journalist Ana Piaggi: it tells the story of the daily and extraordinary life of two aesthetes. In one of his rare interviews, he made fun of the myth of the designer: “There’s an anecdote about Diaghilev. When, before the start of a ballet, he was told that the costumes were not ready, he answered: ‘Do not worry, they are just rags.’ Bursting into tears, crying on taffeta, is ridiculous. Fashion must be joy: the lady that purchases a dress does not need know how much you suffered to create it. With a dress of that nature and at such a price, the whole thing has to be simply a happy game.”
2003. As a photographer, he published the volume Waterdance/Bodywave. In 1995 he had published his Off the Record.
Lagerfeld x H&M
2004, November. The stylist designed a complete collection for the Swedish giant H&M, named Karl Lagerfeld for H&M, which was put on sale in all 20 H&M markets. The collaboration came to an end after only one season due to misunderstandings between the company and the designer.
Lagerfeld x Tommy Hilfiger
2004, December. Tommy Hilfiger Corporation acquired the brand Karl Lagerfeld. The goals were to develop distribution of the collections in the USA, the geographic expansion of the brand, and the creation of new growth opportunities through the broadening of Karl Lagerfeld’s range of articles.
The two designers collaborated also for the Winter 2006 Collection: a quality jeans collection for young and women, at lower prices than the prêt-à-porter. In fact, it should cost 50% less.
The Collaboration with LVMH
2005, May. Bernard Arnault, President of LVMH, renewed the collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld for at least five more years. For the next two years, the maison hopes to break even with a turnover which should touch on 500 million euros.
The Farewell of Lagerfeld
On 19th February 2019 the Kaiser of the fashion passed away, at the age of 85. This date representes a global mourning for the world of fashion, that mournes the death of one of the most original fashion designer of all times. Althought the designer tried to hide his disease till the end, he send a signal when, at the end of the last runway of the Haute Couture 2019 Collection Lagerfeld did not greet the front row.